From the heights of Antioquia, Paula Patiño has developed her climbing talents to shine in stage races and hilly classics alongside Annemiek van Vleuten, her leader in the Movistar outfit. The young Colombian, who grew up as a rider with Fernando Gaviria's father and then discovered European racing in the UCI's World Cycling Centre, returned home to prepare for the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, where she will be the only rider from her country to chase the "sueño amarillo" (the yellow dream).
Where do you prepare for the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift?
I'm currently in La Ceja, Antioquia. It's where I was born and where I've lived all my life. I return there when my race schedule allows me. This year, I returned very recently, after staying in Spain since January. I'll go back to Europe on June 23rd, and it will soon be time for the Giro Rosa and then the Tour de France.
Many Colombian cycling talents come from Antioquia...
It's a great place to ride. For example, these days, I've seen Sergio Higuita a lot. We have a good relationship and he also trains in Eastern Antioquia. We often meet each other and, depending on our program, we ride together a bit. Dani Martinez is around here often too. He's not from Anitoquia, but he lives there with his wife and their kids. And there's Rigo Uran who is from the area. So I see those three a lot and we share some training rides. Antioquia also attracts many foreign riders.
What is so good about cycling in Antioquia?
I think it comes down to the landscape, the mountains and especially the altitude. I live 2.200m above the sea. And you can ride on the flat, hilly routes or into the mountains. Antioquia is also a region with very open people. So when foreigners come here, the people will always try to help them find their way and understand the language.
And you got into cycling with a local figure...
I started with Hernando Gaviria, who is the father of Fernando Gaviria. With my brothers, we were doing all sorts of sports with the municipality programs, and Hernando is the one that really pushed me towards cycling. He had a club and he saw that I could have a talent for this. But at first, I was telling him that I didn't see it for myself, I was saying myself that it was too hard a sport for a girl. Women cycling wasn't as visible as it is now, it was the only the men's races that would get broadcasted. I told him I didn't think I could do it, that there wasn't a future there. And he was convinced that he could train me and that I could be a great rider. So one day he came to my home with an iron bike and a helmet and he told me: "Tomorrow morning I expect you at 7 for a training ride." I couldn't say no anymore. The next day, I was riding with the club and he trained me until the junior ranks
We know the Colombian fans and how they wake up early to support their riders in Europe. What is your experience with the Tour de France?
With my two brothers, we loved all sports, but it was always cycling that got us more excited. We would get up for the Grand Tours, especially the Tour. And I think that's something that really defines the Colombian people. We are very patriotic people and cycling runs in our veins. If there's a Colombian to watch, we get up and support any Colombian. Here, my family and everyone, they love it when I'm in Europe. They wake up at 2 or 3 AM, whatever it takes to watch the race. I think it's lovely and it says a lot about Colombians.
Who were the idols that got you to get out of bed?
In the men's peloton, I've always admired Rigo, not only because he's Colombian, but also for the way he is. He's always very natural. On or off the bike, it doesn't matter if things have been going his way or not, he's always the same person. I love what he shows us and what he teaches us. About the women, I've always admired Anna van der Breggen, Marianne Vos and Annemiek van Vleuten for the type of riders they are and everything they've accomplished. I've been able to race with the first two and I'm a teammate with Annemiek. She's a great leader. At first, we were all a bit stressed when she came, because she's number 1 in the world ranking, and we had to be up to helping her. I think she's happy, and we're happy as well. We've learned a lot from her.
What does it mean to represent Colombia in this first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift?
I'm immensely proud. It's one of the biggest goals, one of the biggest dreams that I had for this year. When we got aware this would happen, we all wanted to be there. The Tour de France is the biggest cycling event in the world, so to have it for the women means a lot. It's a big achievement. To represent Colombia makes me happy and I feel a responsibility as well. I know the country has its eyes on me, that people will be thinking: 'There's a Colombian, we hope it will work well for her, that she will do great.'